Motor contagion in novice golf putting: Testing partner-effects in a motor learning paradigm


In social settings, there is evidence that actions are adapted based on co-actors. This influence has been described in terms of motor contagion, whereby another's actions can unintentionally impact those of a co-actor. In sports, practice and performance often take place alongside or alternating with a partner or competitor. Motor contagion in such settings could help or harm performance and learning. For example, advantages for motor learning might emerge from practise with a partner who has different goals through added variability and through additional effort/motivation from performing alongside a co-actor. Here we compared 6 novice groups (n=12-13/group), practising golf putting to near or far targets. Groups trained alone or in pairs, either alternating or putting simultaneously to different targets. In acquisition, our primary measure was error (cm) in the longitudinal direction, testing for more overshooting in "near" partner groups (with far-target partners), or undershooting in "far" partner groups (with near-target partners), compared to alone. As predicted, near-target groups did overshoot more in acquisition when paired with a far-shooting partner (M = 16.7cm, SD = 7.8) than alone groups (M = 7.9cm, SD = 3.6); especially the simultaneous group. Far-target partner groups also showed less overshooting (M = 3.9cm, SD = 5.3) compared to alone (M = 10.1cm, SD = 6.2). For the far-target groups, partner groups had lower absolute error in a 24-hour retention test than alone groups (p < 0.05). Although testing is ongoing, we have preliminary evidence of partner contagion in novice learners, that can potentially benefit learning.

Acknowledgments: This research was supported by funding from Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) in the form of a Discovery grant awarded to NJH.